Seamus Heaney and Regional Poetry

Regional Poetry is poetry that hones in on a specific location in the world. This location can be as small as a village and its surroundings or as broad as an entire province or territory, such as the American Southwest.

Regional poetry also tends to focus on the idiosyncrasies of that location, including its native inhabitants, geography, culture, wildlife, history, etc. Many of the best regional poets have lived there for a significant portion of their lives.

The most common effect regional poetry has is that of revelation, often bringing to light a relatively unknown part of the world. However, it’s important to note that while regional poetry can pay homage to a location, it can also cast a location (especially its people) in a negative light and bring unwanted attention.

In the following poem, Seamus Heaney writes about a town in Ireland called Anahorish, where he attended primary school. Note that it isn’t an epic poem; he doesn’t chronicle every nook and cranny. Heaney only offers a few select snapshots, a few specific details, and yet it’s enough to evoke the town’s mood and character.

The town was made famous after him.

Anahorish

My ‘place of clear water’,
the first hill in the world
where springs washed into
the shiny grass

and darkened cobbles
in the bed of the lane.
Anahorish, soft gradient
of consonant, vowel-meadow,

after-image of lamps
swung through the yards
on winter evenings.
With pails and barrows

those mound-dwellers
go waist-deep in mist
to break the light ice
at wells and dunghills.

by Seamus Heaney (1939-2013)

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